Fashion designer Jean Benoît, the man behind sharp suit specialists Colorblind, has gone back to the drawing board. Last month, after a year co-managing Street 240’s First Floor, a store which sold designers from around the region, “a real shopping address” , he shut up shop to focus on his collection. The 28-year-old, who is originally from Toulouse, France and genuinely colourblind, has a no-nonsense approach to bad dressing and passion for his brand’s motto: ‘Phnom Penh elegance.’ Poppy McPherson reports.
You love a good suit. When do you dress down, and what do you wear to bed?
When I’m sleeping? I change my tie. No, I wear my underwear, of course.
But yes, most of the time I wear a suit. When you wear a suit, you cannot make a mistake. There is no way this will be unfashionable in three years. You cannot be overdressed. It’s impossible. You can go to Top Banana with a suit, or to Nova, or to Sofitel.
My favourite outfit for women is a suit, of course, but a jacket is always nice because sometimes the night can be fresh, or if you feel hot you can remove it. If you pick a very bright colour, your friends will never lose you in the night.
Most of the time I sell red suits to women, because it’s a very easy piece to wear. Some people can mistake being sexy for being naked. The suit is all about suggesting the body of the woman. This elegance is starting to work in town.
How did you dress when you were a teenager?
My mother used to dress me very classique. I had no friends at school because I didn’t have trendy shoes or trendy clothes. I dressed in classic outfits, like a shirt and trousers with a bow tie, or a V-neck top.
My mother is half Vietnamese and half French. She told me even when you take out the garbage you wear a shirt, you never know who you’re going to see. She grew up in the south of Vietnam and she worked at the first floor of a tailor when I was a kid.
I used to be a skateboarder. It wasn’t nice, at all. It was really at university that I discovered fashion. I had constant interaction with adults and I understood that the way they were dressing defined them. I quickly understood that I wanted to be involved with appearance.
What are your Phnom Penh fashion pet peeves?
I’ve been living in Paris so, of course, I disdain a lot of behaviour.
This weekend I went to the bakery to buy some dessert and I saw a man wearing those Velcro flip-flops. He was wearing them with socks. I looked at him. I didn’t say anything but in my mind I was willing to tell him: don’t give up. You still have many years of being a human.
You never know who you’re going to meet. You could meet the woman of your dreams. You could meet a business partner. You could have an opportunity coming to you.
Miuccia Prada used to say: ‘fashion is instant language’.
Men with t-shirts, shorts and flip flops – that means something. For them, Phnom Penh is seaside, it’s holidays. He’s ready to jump in the swimming pool. I dress up every morning to show what I expect from Phnom Penh.
Who are you dying to get a chance to dress?
Maybe my President, François Hollande, because I don’t like the way he dresses. When the Thai Prime Minister [Yingluck Shinawatra] travels she looks so sharp in her outfit. It says: ‘I know what I’m doing.’ I like this in politics. I like those public people who, when they dress up, you feel like they are firm in their decisions. When I see those politicians with sleeves that are too long, they are showing the world that: ‘the seat is too big for me.’
Through the way you dress up you also carry your tradition, your world, and your culture. Two weeks ago I dressed up a Cambodian singer and he was very happy with it. I said: ‘you don’t have to go to those Thai import shops.’
I have a Khmer CEO who always buys from me. When he travels he’s so proud to say: ‘This is made in Cambodia.’
Who are your design icons?
Hedi Slimane, the designer for Saint Laurent. He’s the one who has been spreading the small jacket, with one button. I saw this jacket in a photo shoot in the inflight magazine for Air France and I knew I had to wear it.
Also Yves Saint Laurent, because he created the smoking [jacket] for women but also because he brought to the fashion world something that has an end. Many brands try to exist after the designer is dead, like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior.
When Yves Saint Laurent died, everything died with him, and the group owning the brand understood that and created Saint Laurent, a new brand. When the designer dies, the brand dies with them. When a famous painter dies, you don’t keep painting for him.
What is your own vision for Colorblind?
I would like Colorblind to be one of the best brands in the world. I’ll run after this and if I fall I will have tried and have had so many happy years with Colorblind.
My dream is to show the world that it’s not only the Western world who owns the leadership in fashion. The day they do a fashion show at the Angkor temples, that’s the day I will call myself a happy man.
Finally, what’s your best fashion tip?
When you’re lost, in front of your mirror crying, and your friends are waiting downstairs in a tuk tuk and you keep telling them ‘five minutes, five minutes’: three colours is the rule. Black, white, with brown shoes, for example. Don’t go with more than three colours.
Appointments available on request at the new Colorblind office: #37A Street 118.